Getting to Know Blue Road Academy (Formerly RefugeeForce)

Salesforce is a collaborative and supportive community, with everyone willing to help others get a step up in the ecosystem. This is the spirit that Gaspar Rodriguez, Nick Broekema, and Marielle Schweickart wanted to capture when they founded Blue Road Academy (formerly RefugeeForce) in 2018 – to help un- and under-employed refugees in the Netherlands secure a Salesforce role.

Now they have expanded all over Europe, but they still have the same goal: to change the perceptions of employers, organizations, and the general public in terms of the experience and skills that newcomers can bring as they build new lives in their host countries. 

I spoke to those who help, as well as those who have been helped by Blue Road Academy, to gain multiple perspectives and to see how everyone in the Salesforce community can get involved…

What Is Blue Road Academy?

Blue Road Academy is an Amsterdam-based company which has helped over 200 people forge new careers in their host countries since launching in 2018. They offer Salesforce training and professional development for their cohorts, before providing them with direct connections to top employers in the ecosystem.

“We are on a mission to create a more diverse, inclusive, and integrated community of technical professionals.”

Blue Road Academy

While it began as an evening volunteering project, Blue Road Academy has become so much more. The company has gone from strength to strength to help an increasing number of people across Europe, and their recent rebrand demonstrates this progression. The lives of their participants are not their stories to tell – instead, their goal is to position alumni with the best chance of securing their first Salesforce role.




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What is Blue Road Academy? How You Can Get Involved

While the figures speak for themselves, I wanted to hear about the different aspects of the program from those who have a direct relationship with Blue Road Academy. From its creator to a recent participant, I spoke to Gaspar Rodriguez, Francis Pindar, Nancy Refki, and Sima Samara to find out how people can get involved…

Co-Founder

What misconceptions about the program and the participants have you encountered, particularly from employers, since you founded Blue Road Academy? 

Overall employers are quick to understand what we do – especially if they know Blue Road Academy (RefugeeForce) already. We offer employers a unique opportunity to get involved and access an entirely new pool of talent. Since all our programs are run locally and in the classroom, we invite recruitment partners to get involved as guest trainers, mentors, career panels, and to present themselves to the participants. It also works to break down barriers between newcomers and employers. 

These unique benefits do come with program costs. Employers have to contribute to the program through sponsorships, recruitment partnerships, and hiring fees to keep it free for all participants. This allows us to provide the best experience possible for every participant and bring our program to new cities while maintaining our focus on job creation.

It is absolutely worth it. Our participants are highly motivated professionals, they hold multiple degrees, and over seven years of work experience on average – this enables them to learn quickly and become rising stars, when given a chance with the right employer. 

What does a typical training process look like from start to finish, and how did you decide on this method? 

Our core training program lasts six weeks and includes 100 hours of classroom-based training. We generally follow the Salesforce Administrator curriculum, which provides solid foundational knowledge about the platform. We believe this foundation is not only critical for future administrators, but also for consultants, developers, architects, and business analysts.

Alongside that, we weave in best practices, team exercises, e-learning, and quizzes to strengthen the foundation with a practitioner-based approach.

Our aim is to produce a well-rounded junior Salesforce professional who not only understands the platform, but also how to build solutions effectively.

What are you most excited about for the future of Blue Road Academy – what’s next? 

We are very excited about scaling up our program to new cities and new countries. After four years, we now know what works and who will be successful in our program. We have been gradually picking up speed and are now ready to start flying towards our 10,000 participants target by 2030 – this is how we will be able to reach our intended impact.

Trainer

What is the difference between training with Blue Road Academy and other forms of training? Have you had to adapt your approach?

Teaching the participants of Blue Road Academy is an incredible experience. One of the key differences is the utter passion that you get from the people in the room. They know it is such a great opportunity for them. 

For most, English isn’t their first language, so I changed the way I taught a little bit: 

  • I have learned to speak a bit slower.
  • I continually check their understanding. Even if they know the translation, the colloquialisms I use may mean they won’t understand.
  • I give them training materials which have subtitles in their own language. This also allows them to work at their own pace outside the classes.

How much time do you commit to RefugeeForce, and how is the training formatted?

I have to conduct three three-hour sessions per week over six weeks. There is a curriculum but Blue Road Academy gave me the flexibility to make some tweaks to the content to suit the way I like to teach.

The training basically takes them from not knowing anything about Salesforce to knowing everything necessary for the admin certification and being successful in their first role. The most amazing part is that they are guaranteed interviews at some of the top Salesforce companies in the UK. Just being able to get a foot in the door is hard enough sometimes, but actually to be given it as well as part of this course, is incredible.

What have you gained from your experience of working with Blue Road Academy?

One thing that has stuck with me is seeing the impact that you have on the participants. They are such a diverse group of people, from teachers to developers, and their passion and their drive was infectious.

Just knowing you’re giving them this amazing opportunity is so rewarding.

A specific moment was at a recent admin community user group. As I walked in, I saw one of my students who is now working for the consultancy the user group was being hosted at. I saw him in a Salesforce jacket and it felt like we had come full circle.

Mentorship

Why did you decide to get involved with Blue Road Academy?

I fully believe in the mission of Blue Road Academy – our sector could greatly benefit from the diversity of newcomers. All we need is to open a door for them. 

The participants are very resilient, eager to learn and restart fresh in their host countries. I wanted to assist by creating this safe environment for them and creating a community of Salesforce volunteer mentors who are able to accompany participants on their journeys.

During your time working with Blue Road Academy, have you experienced any external challenges or misconceptions?

There is a stigma surrounding the label “Refugee”. 

There is also the hiring challenge because the recruitment and job placement for graduates is not happening with the desired speed. A lot of lobbying and advocating work needs to be done within the ecosystem partner organizations to be able to absorb more graduates. We need to understand the roadblocks and challenges companies face when hiring so we can work on them together and provide them with fresh talent.

What is the format of your work with Blue Road Academy? How much time do you put into the program?

I am part of the Citizen Philanthropy Team at Salesforce, responsible for giving-back, employee-volunteering and engagement with our nonprofit partners and the communities where we live and work. My role is to create impactful programs where our employees can volunteer and make a difference. 

A lot goes into the coordination of the program, but every hour is well-spent when you see the impact in a few months on the lives of participants.

I spend my time working to create the mentorship program and facilitate the recruitment of salesforce mentors so they are able to provide 15-20 hours of 1:1 mentoring on a voluntary basis.

Menteeship 

Before you joined the Blue Road Academy program, what obstacles had you faced in terms of career development?

Before Blue Road Academy, I was struggling to start up a career in the Netherlands. Back home, I studied pharmaceutical science for six years and worked as a pharmacist for two years, but my certification was not accepted. To continue with this work in the Netherlands, I would have to pass an exam to qualify my Dutch speaking to be at a high level (two to three years of learning), then restudy pharmaceutical science for three years in Dutch! 

That’s why I’m lucky I found Blue Road Academy. I love Salesforce, people don’t need to go to university to study for four or five years – all they need is a Trailhead account, which is free, and they can prepare for their certifications.

What have been your highlights since finding Salesforce through the program?

I love the Salesforce community! As a refugee, alone in a new country, you need friends and community – Salesforce made the Netherlands feel like home.

Salesforce communities are always there to help you and listen and advise you.

The Blue Road Academy program has come a long way since it began, what would you like to see in the future?

I would love to see Blue Road Academy grow, and help more and more refugees. Blue Road Academy gave me hope and a promise of a good life, and I hope they can expand to all over the world to help everyone who needs it.

Summary

Blue Road Academy has enabled so many skilled professionals to harness Salesforce in their host country. No matter who you are in the ecosystem, you can get involved with this amazing program! If you wish to find out more, visit Blue Road Academy or email them at [email protected].

Thank you to Gaspar, Francis, Nancy, and Sima for their contributions to this article – it was truly insightful.




READ MORE:
What is Blue Road Academy? How You Can Get Involved

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